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Akiyama a hit in first game with Reds

@m_sheldon
February 23, 2020

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Outfielder Shogo Akiyama is 31 years old with nine years of experience at baseball’s top professional level in Japan. But that didn’t prevent him from having butterflies ahead of his first Major League exhibition game on Sunday. During a 7-2 loss to the White Sox, Akiyama started

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Outfielder Shogo Akiyama is 31 years old with nine years of experience at baseball’s top professional level in Japan. But that didn’t prevent him from having butterflies ahead of his first Major League exhibition game on Sunday.

During a 7-2 loss to the White Sox, Akiyama started in center field and was 1-for-3. In the bottom of the first inning against right-hander Dylan Cease, Akiyama lined the second pitch into right-center field for a single. He grounded out to second base in the second inning and reached on a fielder’s choice after grounding to first base in the fourth inning.

“I was very nervous, but definitely relieved I got my first hit,” Akiyama said via translator Luke Shinoda. “It was also good that I was able to see a lot of balls.”

In the fourth inning, Akiyama was caught trying to steal second base.

“It wasn’t a goal, but I just wanted to see if I could do it, to see if I had a chance,” Akiyama said. “It was good I was able to run it out.”

Akiyama signed a three-year, $21 million contract in January and is the first Japanese player to play for the Reds. His entire career was previously spent playing for the Seibu Lions, but Akiyama has fit in well with his new team, in the clubhouse and on the field during workout drills. Players have been able to communicate with him in English.

“He looked great. He looked comfortable,” Reds manager David Bell said after Sunday’s game. “I know it’s just Spring Training, but it’s kind of nice to get a hit in your first at-bat just to kind of take the pressure off. I think he settled in pretty quick after that. He said he was nervous before the game. I didn’t really see that. I think you’re always a little bit nervous before the game.

“There’s some extra feelings there for him, for sure. But it was nice to get into the flow of the game really quick. Getting a hit and getting on base helps with that a lot.”

During his four innings on the field for Cincinnati, Akiyama also made two routine catches -- one on a fly ball from James McCann in the second inning and another on Nicky Delmonico’s line drive in the third.

The bright sun and high sky are often an issue for outfielders in Arizona, but Akiyama had no trouble.

“At least for today, I was able to see the ball,” he said. “I know -- and I’ve heard -- that in a lot of MLB ballparks it’s hard to see. I mean, I always just check the sun to see where the ball is. The best [thing], for me, was to be able to play a game today.”

Akiyama is not scheduled to play on Monday vs. Texas, but he could have a memorable moment waiting for him on Tuesday. That’s when the Reds will travel to Tempe to face the Angels and Japanese superstar Shohei Ohtani.

Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook.